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Why BuzzFeed’s Slip-Up Should Be a Wake-Up Call for Brands

Why BuzzFeed’s Slip-Up Should Be a Wake-Up Call for Brands


If content is king, BuzzFeed is queen — of native ads.

It’s no secret that BuzzFeed does native ads better than most in the industry. But a few recent mishaps suggest that native advertising might not sell for brands.

In case you missed it, here’s a recap of what’s going on with BuzzFeed:

A recent internal review of the site’s practices revealed that it deleted 1,112 posts for reasons ranging from technical errors to copyright issues. But the controversy surrounds the three posts deleted because of “advertiser complaints.” 

The posts in question criticized products or ads produced by Microsoft Corp., PepsiCo, and AXE (a product of Unilever, which is one of BuzzFeed’s largest advertisers). To make matters worse, the internal report was released nearly a week after BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith asked editors to delete two other posts critical of Dove (also a product of Unilever) and Monopoly (a product of Hasbro Inc., which is another mammoth BuzzFeed advertiser).

Sounds like a nightmare, right? 

The BuzzFeed situation is a prime example of the harmful effects of pushing out promotional, poor-quality content. In the end, this approach will only mar a brand’s image.  

What Brands Stand to Learn 

According to Contently, a whopping 54 percent of readers don’t trust sponsored content. Instead, they want to be educated and inspired

Brands looking to establish themselves as authoritative figures in their industries need to practice honest, transparent communication. The best way to do this is through educational content.

Here are three types of educational content that readers (and editors) crave:

1. Thought Leadership Content

Don't confuse thought leadership with native advertising or branded content. According to Demand Metric, marketing with thought leadership content generates three times as many leads and costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing methods. And it starts with showcasing an individual’s expertise solely to benefit readers.

When done effectively, thought leadership content boosts your company’s credibility and provides readers with actionable takeaways they can implement in their own lives. Brands can leverage content to establish thought leadership and build trust with readers. 

2. Content That Combats Customer Pain Points

Every piece of content you produce should be created with a goal in mind. Some of Influence & Co.’s content goals include building brand awareness and overcoming customer pain points. For example, we recently published the article “5 Leaders Share the Unusual Ways They Generate Ideas for Content” in an effort to combat a common pain point we hear: generating original content. The goal of this article was to inspire readers to think differently when creating content and hopefully spark an innovative new idea. 

3. Resources

This is probably the most common type of educational content. Resources can be whitepapers, e-books, templates, etc. The purpose of these resources is to teach readers about far-reaching industry topics and hopefully make their lives easier. Our customizable Editorial Calendar & Content Promotion Template, for instance, was created to help marketers and content managers plan their own editorial and distribution efforts. 

By providing free resources, you show prospects that you care about their needs and want to help them achieve their goals — and generate leads in the process.

Educational content is all about showcasing your brand’s authentic perspective. By creating informative content, companies can turn themselves into resources for their audiences and promote brand trust, loyalty, and top-of-mind awareness.

Bad Content Isn’t Worth the Risk 

All brands, even BuzzFeed, need a content marketing reminder every now and again. When you follow the road to producing bad, promotional content, you risk:

  • Not adding value. As Doug Kessler once said, “Content marketing is thinking about the target audience’s needs first.” In contrast to traditional advertising, content marketing is about forming relationships with your customers and talking with them instead of at them.
  • Tarnishing your relationship with readers. We already know that the majority of readers don’t trust sponsored content, so it’s important to strike a balance with native advertising. Even BuzzFeed, a media/news site whose content is so intermingled with native ads, can learn from its previous mistakes by posting content that, above all, delivers a valuable message to its audience.
  • Muddling your core mission. Your content is your brand, and your brand must stand for something. Influence & Co. was founded on the belief that the best content establishes trust, breathes authenticity, and provides readers with true value. When you solidify your brand’s mission, it will be easier to create content that aligns with your core values. 
  • Compromising your long-term business goals. Content is arguably the most important asset in your marketing strategy. It can generate leads, help close sales, and strengthen your relationships with customers. When developing long-term business goals, make sure content is the driving force behind your efforts.   
  • Hurting your credibility as an industry leader. Producing promotional, poorly written content will do nothing to help establish your brand as a thought leader. Take the time to create content that will resonate with your audience and speak to your true brand voice. 

When you’re walking the fine line of native advertising, educational content is always the way to go. BuzzFeed’s slip-up is a good reminder for marketers to stay away from the low-quality content vortex. After all, once you get sucked in, your audience won’t be there to help you out.

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About Sarah Morris

Baths over showers. Dogs over cats. Chocolate over vanilla, always. I’m taking over the world with content, one whitepaper at a time.


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